Divine Mercy

On a recent week-end, I found myself racing from house to house, ministering to the dying, while my faithful brothers and sisters were celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday.

Since I’m careening across three counties on my rounds, I can almost always snag an opportunity to assist at Mass on Sunday. But it was not to be.

No matter. Every morning, I pray, “Arrange my day to your good pleasure.” So I can only conclude that His good pleasure was tending the suffering on His day. (And the church gives me a pass for this. Failing to assist at mass on the Lord’s day, which includes the vigil on Saturday night, is only acceptable if you are sick, tending the sick, or absolutely incapable of getting there. By absolutely incapable, I do not mean hung-over, tired or cranky. I mean, physically impeded by distance, gunfire or freakish storms.)

When I pulled up to check on a man in his thirties who had managed to drink himself to the brink of death, I saw a garishly painted statue of the Blessed Mother in the front yard. (First I called it hideous, and my husband admonished me. “How could a statue of Mary be hideous?” Well, in my experience, people will mess up every chance they get, even when fashioning holy objects. Don’t believe me? Check this out: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19349921)

From the doorway I could see that the man was in very bad shape. But people under fifty can live for days and days gripping onto the tiniest thread of will.

Suddenly I had the urge to take off my brown scapular and put it around his neck. (In over twenty years, I’ve never done this before.)

“Is he Catholic?” I asked his sister.

“No. Yes. Well, his mother is Catholic, so I guess that means he is, too.”

I decided to finish my assessment, then go out to the living room and ask his mother permission to put my scapular on him. But I got an even stronger nudge to “do it now!”

Even though I’m a slow learner, I have finally caught on that when I get a strong nudge, it’s best to follow through. So I took off my scapular and put it around his neck, whispering, “Now you belong to Mother Mary. She will keep you safe and lead you straight to Jesus.”

And he died! That very instant!!!

I thought about this when I heard Stevie Ray Vaughn on the radio this morning. Stevie had an amazing conversion and died soon after in a helicopter crash. It seems to me that God snatched Stevie at the perfect moment, before he had a chance to return to his former evil ways.

Over the years, I’ve told many patients who were afraid of going to sleep, “God won’t snatch you up when you’re not looking. He’ll wait for you to take a swan dive into His arms.” (Pretty presumptuous of me, now that I think of it!  But everybody’s got to sleep.)

Sometimes He does snatch us up. I’m guessing that He does that, knowing the moment when we are most disposed for giving our final “Yes!”, with the ultimate goal of having us safely home, where we belong.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His mercy endures forever.

Psalm 118:1

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The Smile

One of the most precious aspects of my job is “bearing witness” at the foot of the cross. It is a sweet sorrow, lending comfort and prayerful presence,and most usually painful. But every so often I witness a piercing of the veil between heaven and earth, and experience a descent of the divine spirit of love, and can’t believe my good fortune.

Last weekend I was present for one of those delightful moments.  The patient was an elderly gentleman from Pakistan who hovered very near death. Just the day before, his family told me they were anxiously awaiting the arrival of his granddaughter from out-of-state.  “He loves her so!” they told me. “We just hope he knows she’s here.”

When I arrived the next day to check on him, I found the beloved granddaughter sitting beside his bed, holding his hand. He appeared unresponsive. The granddaughter moved out of the way to the other side of the bed, leaned down and softly said, “Dada, the nurse is here.”

He opened his eyes, and a look of shocked wonder washed over his face.

“How ARE you?” He asked, grinning with delight.

“I’m fine, Dada; how are you?”

“How ARE you!” he exclaimed. It wasn’t a question anymore. It seemed to be a proclamation of her presence..

The granddaughter laughed gently. “I am fine; the question is – how are YOU?”

“How ARE you!” he said, again and again, practically wriggling with delight.

That man’s beatific smile is seared into my memory. Over the last three days it comes to mind at the oddest times, and leaves me warmed with delight.

As I write this, my husband, his siblings and beloved grandchildren hold vigil hundreds of miles away by the ICU bed of their patriarch. I pray that he will recognize their presence, and that they will feel his spirit smiling on them as well.

Traveling mercies, Pop, and Godspeed.

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God is a Gentleman

Years ago, when I was a fledgling hospice nurse, a grizzled old colleague explained to me why a patient continued to cling to life when there was no medical explanation.

“Someone is holding back the Holy Spirit!” She went on to say that even if the patient is at peace and eager to leave this life for the next one, a family member can delay their passing by refusing to release them.

The other night, I attended a death call and the daughter-in-law told me the patient nearly died several times in the previous week. Once, she opened her eyes and said, “The Lord was holding my hands, and then He let go. Someone is keeping me here!” Then she said, accusingly, “Is it you?”

The daughter-in-law assured her that she wasn’t the culprit. Then, a grand-daughter called and said she just had to see the patient one more time, but couldn’t get there for another three days. The daughter-in-law said she knew this was not possible, since the patient was so near death.

But the grand-daughter arrived, spent time with the patient, and she still hovered between life and death. Five hours later, the patient’s brother arrived from out-of-town, unannounced, and the patient died within minutes.

Years ago, an old cowboy whispered to me, “I can see Jesus at the foot of my bed, with his arms out, and I don’t know what to do. I’m just flat not ready.”

“God is a gentleman,” I blurted out.

“Really?”

“Yeah, really. He’ll wait until you’re ready.” I left his room wondering where that came from, and feeling a little guilty for such a rash promise. But the cowboy died peacefully about three days later. I could only conclude that he finally got ready, and the Lord graciously carried him home.

I continue to be amazed by the perfect timing of death in a terminal illness, and the tender mercies the Lord showers on his children. (I love my job!)

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